Nima Wangdi 

Foreign ministry’s passport division has been issuing travel documents in place of passports since August 20 after they ran out of passport booklets. The division expects the booklets to arrive by October.

Chief of passport division Tshewang Dorji T said that the stock might arrive even earlier.

The travel document is similar to a passport in shape and size but it is green. It is usually issued to those without citizenship identity cards for travel overseas.

Tshewang Dorji T said that the validity of the travel document was five years while it is 10 years for ordinary passport. “This is because a travel document has only 32 pages while a passport has 64.”

He said all the missions, embassies, airlines and government agencies have been informed about the interim arrangement. Travel document is recognised internationally and the fee to obtain both is same, Nu 1,000 a booklet.

The division has over 16,000 of the green booklets and could last about seven months going by the current rate of passports issued every month for the past three months.

A woman, who works in Europe, said that her passport expired recently. If she gets a new one today she has to take the travel document. “It could be a problem to come back in five years to renew the document.”

Why the shortage? 

Tshewang Dorji T said that the sudden rise in the number of passport applicants led to the shortage of the booklets. The division issued over 19,000 ordinary passports to date since the lockdown relaxation began.

“It should have lasted for one and a half years if we go by the rate of passports issued before the pandemic,” the chief said. “The demand suddenly increased after the last relaxation.”

He said the division started processing for the stock in April following the sudden rise in the demand. “But due to the complicated security processes involved, it took time.”

The booklets are printed in Germany.

Tshewang Dorji T said that Germany also has a raw material shortage because of the disruption in the global supply chain. “They take the orders and take a minimum of six months to print the booklets.”

The division confirmed the order by May and they would be supplying only in November. “However, since we have explained the shortage, they agreed to supply it by October.”

He said that they are still pushing it to make it even earlier but it looks unlikely since some other countries are also facing the same problem. He said that a booklet costs Nu 700 inclusive of production and transportation costs. Adding administrative costs would make it about Nu 1,000.

Clearing backlog 

With a huge backlog of passports to issue, the division worked on last Saturday but could not clear the backlog. They could verify 587 applications and print 375 passports.

“We can clear the backlog soon,” Tshewang Dorji T said.

If the backlog could not be cleared by Friday they would work overtime this Saturday too.

He said applicants claimed to have emergency travel plans and asked for immediate issue of passports. However, later some did not come to collect them.

Tshewang Dorji T said there are around 500 passports printed. He said the department started calling up applicants to collect them.

He said that despite an increase in applicants, the different systems have not been working well for the last few weeks hampering the divisions’ work progress.

“I have informed the Department of Information Technology and Telecom, and public service delivery division about their systems being quite erratic,” he said, adding that the agencies have to be accountable and responsible.

Sometimes their systems did not work and people could not pay. However, they blame only the passport division when they can’t get the passport because of the failure of other services. “It is important that the people should know this.”

“The agencies can’t be blaming each other but meet up and thrash out the problems so that public can enjoy better services,” he said.